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Sector Focus: Staging & Rigging

Staging and rigging companies have increasingly been turning their attention to health and safety. Emma Hudson talks to industry leaders about the new products and trends that will keep everyone safe.

For such an integral part of an event’s success, staging and rigging companies rarely get credit for the awe-inspiring and innovative work they do. Often the industry only captures the public’s attention when something has gone wrong.

Thankfully, major accidents are few and far between. Over the past few years, staging and rigging companies have made health and safety – of spectators and working staff – a top priority. To Access’ delight, this has resulted in an industry-wide burst of creativity: we’re seeing cool stages with even cooler building methods behind them.

Will Bushell, managing director at staging hire company Pro Productions, said roof collapses at past festivals made it clear that new working methods were necessary. “Just being out in the field, seeing other companies – not naming names – and how they work, there needs to be a standard that is rigorously enforced,” Bushell said.

“The reality is that there has been a steady increase in the awareness of health and safety for many years,” Blackout’s Kevin Monks said. “It has now plateaued and become the norm on all jobs. The responsibility for health and safety is everyone’s responsibility – employers and employees alike. It’s apparent on every job, not just when you are forced to comply due to the attendance of an external health and safety officer.”

Monks emphasised the increasing importance – not just within Blackout, but also the entire industry – of the ‘Hierarchy of Control’, which places emphasis on designing the risk out of the task from the get-go. Engineering controls, systems of work and personal protective equipment have all been the focus of increased examination to make sure they’re up to standard.

Meanwhile, Pro Productions has focused on different methods used to anchor staging down, completely moving away from using water ballasts and instead using concrete or ground staging.

In August, the company will celebrate its tenth birthday, and Bushell hinted that they would be celebrating by introducing an innovative new product into the market.

“We’ve come up with a completely different staging concept in terms of the main stage for festivals,” Bushell said. “We’ve had designers sitting down and brainstorming ideas to come up with a different image for festivals.” The Pro Productions team is deep in the design process at the moment and, though Bushell was reluctant to give away any firm details, he did admit that the product was “exciting” and that they were “spending a significant amount of money on it.”

Serious Stages has also thrown its hat into the health and safety ring. The company is preparing to launch a Code of Practice cross-industry document, said managing director Steven Corfield. The document explains ‘best practice’ surrounding all areas of health and safety related to the use of stages and similar demountable structures at events. Corfield highlighted Serious’ advancement of a demountable hand and kick rail system that will be installed on all decking above 1.5 metres where there is no intermediate decking used.

“This is truly a legacy building on our experience working on the Olympics,” he told Access. “We built structures at several of the London 2012 venues and that was our first close hand experience adhering to CDM regulations.

“Our new code…is currently in the final stages of consultation with fellow staging companies, health and safety experts, licensing authorities and a number of organisers. We could foresee there was a lot of confusion around the changes in control between the HSE on build and re-rigg, with local authorities taking responsibilities on show days, combined with the increased application of CDM regulations.”

Serious’ code launches in April. Corfield is optimistic that it will create a clear set of boundaries for suppliers, the HSE and licensing authorities in time for this summer’s events, including Glastonbury and Festival Republic’s festivals.

Safety is a big reason for new product pushes and working standards, but there’s also a desire to stand out from competitors.

“People are screaming for something new that other events haven’t got,” Pro Productions’ Bushell said. “If you’re going to an event, you want something visually spectacular.”

For spectacular, boundary-pushing events, the industry is looking to one-off shows, said Blackout’s Monks. Despite downsized budgets, these one-off events are getting bigger and more complex each year, Monks insisted.

“Some of the most complex rigging projects are one-off shows such as the MTV Awards and The Brits,” he said. “These multi-artist shows are constantly looking at pushing boundaries when it comes to creative set design, with each artist wanting their own special effects.

“We’ve noticed an increase in production teams requiring more flown and moving elements, especially as screens and other technologies become lighter and therefore easier to automate,” Monks continued. “In response, we’ve delivered some of our most complex rigging plots, with upwards of 30 or 40 moving elements, which all need to run seamlessly on cue. Ten years ago, these types of shows might have had one or two.”

If that sounds almost overwhelmingly challenging, that’s because it is. Monks told Access that one-off shows are often more technically challenging than touring shows and festivals – “especially as there is minimal rehearsal time and lots of stakeholders involved,” he added.
Rigging Services’ Paul Fulcher had a different perspective, identifying three categories of stages and usage. “The small ‘boutique’ type of modular stage for very small events,” he said. “The medium size stages – anything from 12m x 10m, to 16m x 14m. These two areas are very price sensitive. Then, in the third category are the exceptionally large stages seen at the largest UK festivals and are less likely to be discounted because the festival has the budget to afford whatever it needs.

“There is a bigger demand for smaller stages as the client base becomes more aware of their existence and affordability, since a lot of production companies now offer them cheap,” Fulcher admitted.

As in most industries, the staging and rigging sector has felt the repercussions of a seemingly never-ending recession, though everyone who spoke to Access seemed optimistic.

“The industry was fairly resilient to the recession,” Monks said. “Especially since the Olympics, there has been a steady level of events. Although budgets remain tight, the corporate market seems fairly buoyant, as do one-off shows and concerts, which get bigger and more complex every year. The automotive and mobile phone sectors are continually launching new products, and these industries now form a large part of our business.”

Rigging Services also withstood the economic downturn, Fulcher said. “We were not hit hard – in fact, we continued to grow year on year.” Serious Stages’ Corfield, while admittedly less defiant, was ready to announce growth in the sector as a whole.

“Margins have always been tight in our sector, so our business model is centred around delivering best value,” he said. “I believe that approach positions us well, alongside our reinvestment in equipment and advances in health and safety, to become many people’s choice of staging provider. We’ve supported many festivals with our smaller stages and we hope they stay with us to use our bigger roofs and range of site structures as they develop.”

Bushell reported similar positive growth at Pro Productions. It’s constant reinvestment and a ‘just keep swimming’ attitude that have buoyed the staging and rigging sector. These companies have been rewarded for their optimism and pragmatic planning with a booming business – and one that, even in the wake of the Olympics, doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

This was first published in the April issue of AAA. Any comments? Email Emma Hudson